Thursday, April 25, 2019

Spring on the Poetry Pole



Smokey-Bro:
"We were taking a walk
And what did we find
But a poetry pole
With Ma's poem inside."

Spring
Tulips outside my front door.
Lilies in my neighbor’s yard.
Pink and white rhododendrons
emerging from their buds.
Crocuses lined up like purple soldiers
waiting for a drill.
New brides yawning,
stretching toward the sun.
     
                                  - Esther Altshul Helfgott
       from Tree Walk Book, Summer 2005

"Yay, Ma! 
Woof to you."

Thank you Kelly E Sweet

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Smokey-Bro: Ma's Blogging Again



January 1, 2019 
(copied from my journal)

One wonders:
               Has the meningioma
caused the pulling back
              from human contact
                      the dislike of social interactions
the need to stay home
                     not go out into society
                           not to parties
not even the grocery store?

 "The risk of meningioma can be reduced by maintaining a normal body weight, and by avoiding unnecessary dental x-rays," says Wikipedia (Not the greatest source, but interesting).

The neurosurgeon's visit did not tell me this. But let's face it, I was too immersed in the guy's good looks to remember the questions I wanted to ask .... Will I never grow too old for this kind of silliness?

He said I probably had the tumor since the year 2000. It's not cancerous but if it presses more on the lobe (which one?) my right side may start to drag: a foot, a leg, a shoulder.

(Shall I begin recording this on my blog? Will it be helpful to anyone? Will it help me stay focused on my writing, on getting as much done as I can, while I'm able?)

... My right side may start to drag: a foot, a leg, a shoulder ...

Surgery could be worse than leaving it alone. "Surgery can cause a stroke," he says. I'll have another MRI in September. "All we have to do is watch it for now."

The doctor said nothing about dental x-rays and nothing about my weight. Nor did I know to ask him about these two possibilities. But I've had plenty of dental x-rays in the past and am due for a cleaning this month.

The first thing the dentist will tell me is we have to take more x-rays and I will tell him "No thank you, just a cleaning will be fine this time." He and the technician will argue with me, no doubt. I'll let them argue but will stand firm.

The last time I was in the dentist's chair and mentioned that my tooth hurt, he took x-rays and said I needed a root canal. (I had a root canal on the tooth next door to that one already). I go get the root canal - another out-of-pocket $1000+ - and my tooth is still hurting.

But I will not get anymore x-rays and will live with the annoyance. As for weight gain - I will do my best not to eat the raspberry-filled sugar donuts my daughter just brought me, along with those beautiful flowers.

Should I start blogging again? At least I wouldn't be hiding from myself. Why does "being seen" mean doing something with the self? And not being seen, not doing anything with the self?

I like not being public, not expanding on who I am and isn't that what writing outside the self does? But if you're a writer you have to write and share what you've written? I have six file cabinets filled with my writings. Should I throw them out? What to do with forty-five years of journals?

Does being public change the self?
How to keep the self intact when interacting with others?
How to remember oneself when in a public space?

I'm reading Saadi Youssef.



                            "As for me, I say: I have no actual life outside poetry."
                                     (Saadi Youssef, Nostalgia, My Enemy, p. 4)

Did I crawl back into myself after the Alzheimer books? I didn't like being so public, writing and talking about Abe without him here... without his telling of his own story ... using his material ...

Yet, I seem to be coming out of my "blues," if that's what's been happening for the last few years. Or, maybe it's the brain tumor. Who knows. Either way, I have to live with it and work around it.

Going to Jackie's now. She's painting a wall and wants my opinion: Silver or champagne? I'm going for the warmer shade, champagne.

Happy New Year, with thanks to poets who help me to write and remember who I am. To Ann Hursey, Loreen Lee and Trish Honig. To my grandson, Hunter, who listens to me talk while he's driving home from college; and to Smokey-Bro, who is no trouble at all, sometimes.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Death Penalty: A Poem  
      - for Abe Schweid (1928 - 2010)
by Esther Altshul Helfgott

Ted Bundy was walking his last walk,
and Abe had his ear glued to the radio.

I walked passed him in a huff
that he cared so much about the life
of that killer
of women.
My stomach turns remembering the news
of Bundy biting off women’s nipples
before killing them.
                                      
In 1974, I’m walking 
to the parking lot
after school lets out. 
It’s dark and Bundy's 
said to be in Bellingham, 
where I’m a student at Western.
I’m afraid to walk to my car.
I ask another woman if she'd watch me 
and then I’d watch her. But she scoffs, says:
Bundy’s not here. He won’t get you.

And another woman is killed.
And still another.

The woman had laughed,
and I wondered how she lived
without the fear of men
mutilating women:

A teenage girl bludgeoned to death in Patterson Park,
my neighborhood, East Baltimore, 1946.
Is this a screen memory?

I’m five years old. An eleven-year-old, Marsha Brill,
is knifed to death, July 6, 1948. I’m seven.
This is not a screen memory. The event is captured
in newspapers across the country, 
including the Baltimore Sun. The man was executed. 

Aeleven-year-old girl is hammered to death
in the basement of a tropical fish store.
Again, my neighborhood, Northwest Baltimore,
September 29, 1969. Her name was Esther.
This man was not executed. 
He was white.

How do women grow up unafraid?

When Bundy is finally dead,
January 24, 1989, I breathe a sigh of relief,
go back to our bedroom.
and sit down next to Abe
who is crying.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Aunt Miriam Gluskin Helfgott Sax (c 1897 - 2000)

This is my Aunt Miriam Gluskin Helfgott Sax, who came to the US in 1922 with my father, Isidore, and their parents, Jacob and Kaila Helfgott, pronounced Gelfgott in Russian. I was always afraid of Aunt Miriam. She was big and imposing and had a punitive voice, or so it seemed. She gave me a pair of green gloves once, with a matching hat beside. I was five. We were living on East Baltimore Street.  When I was ten she gave me a doll. By then we were living on Pall Mall Road. The presents she gave me didn't make up for my fear of her. I didn't like to hear her voice, though I craved it. I wished she would have put her arm around me, just once, to take the fear away. But look how pretty she was when she came to this country, how sweet her face. I wish I could have touched her face then. I would have liked her touch rather than her presents, though I liked them too. I wonder if living as an immigrant in the United States took her sweetness away. I know it took my father's, though he tried; and maybe she did too.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Cirque:A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Vol. 9, No. 2

Image may contain: flower and text

I wrote the poem "Marriage," which appears below, and in this issue of Cirque, years ago. I found it in a pile of work stacked in one of my cubbie holes. It was written when Abe was still home, already diagnosed with Alzheimer's I think, but still functioning relatively okay. He didn't go into a facility until 2006 so I must have written this in the early 2000's when we were both still hoping he would get better. That was such a long time ago, but I remember it as if it were yesterday. I especially liked the kiss at the end of the poem. I will look for more of these stashed-away jottings, and thank Cirque for publishing this one.


Marriage


She has been taking him
to doctors
every day for a month
and once this last week
he hollered at her.
He was tired too
and was sorry afterwards.
When they came home
she went to bed
and didn’t get up for hours.
When she did,
he was in the kitchen
making dinner.
He turned to look at her.
She smiled and said:
I’m better now.
He put Mozart’s
Divertimento 563
into the CD slot.
They sat down
together
and ate dinner,
but first
he kissed her.
       -Esther Altshul Helfgott




Friday, September 22, 2017

On Diary Writing and Writing Projects



I've been going through my diaries to find my jot-downs for my book on psychoanalysis but found this from May 30, 2016 and, of course, have gotten sidetracked. It wasn't as neat as it is here - just diary scribbling - so I had to drop my "project" - what I came to the diaries for - to work on it. How could I put this aside? Now for the "major project," which will take me to my diaries again.... and so it goes ... 


Annie at the Park
       - for Heather, Jonathan and Sue

She closes her eyes, 
tilts back her head -
and feels a slight breeze
loving her face.

This child,
a mere three years old - 
stops in the middle 
of her busy life
to appreciate the wisdom 
she was born with.

She is like a butterfly
stopping for a peak - at
the rest of her day.
       - Esther Altshul Helfgott

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Emma at Eleven





Emma's been watching me read
and write in the gazebo
since she was three months old.

Now she's eleven,
sitting on that same perch,
still watching me.

I love her paws and those ears,
always in the perked-up position.




If she hears a sound that doesn't belong here, she's up and running; and that sweet little girl turns into a creature you don't want to mess with.

But when people she knows stop by,
and she recognizes their smells
and their body energy isn't creepy,
she kisses them all over.



Thursday, July 06, 2017

Words From the Cafe: an anthology

Words From the Cafe: an anthology edited and introduced by Seattle writer Anna Balint and published by Phoebe Bosche's Raven Chronicles Press (2016) is a book about community; and if there is anything a writer needs it is community.

The contributors to this publication write within a group called the Safe Place Writing Circle; it's housed at the Recovery Cafe in downtown Seattle. Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur: "The Recovery Café is a community, built from the heart of a woman named Killian Noe.

"For 10 years Noe....has been the center of this place, which serves those battling drug and alcohol addiction. She greets, she listens, she hugs, she shares, she remembers every name. And she believes in people who have all but stopped believing in themselves."

The Recovery cafe is a true community center. In addition to coffee and food, it offers a variety of classes, including meditation, yoga, dance and résumé writing.  It helps people find housing. It helps them recover from addictions. “What I see in every person who walks through this door is someone who has suffered with not just one trauma, but one after another and another,” said founding director, Noe, author of Finding Our Way Home: Addictions and Divine Love. [Seattle Times, September 7, 2014]

Enter Anna Balint, writing teacher extraordinaire. With help from Jack Straw Productions, 4Culture and others, Balint has brought together men and women who might otherwise not have had the opportunity to put pen to paper, to tell their stories--for their own benefit, the class's (they share what they write) and,not the least,those of the reading public who are interested in learning how to pull a writing class together and who value voices of our neighbors in recovery.


Esmeralda Hernandez, one of twenty-two contributors to the anthology: "If you watch butterflies, you will see they only interact in small, short moments of safety."

Balint provides a safe environment in her Friday afternoon classes, as measured by the returning participants - those who show up every week, as well as those who drop in occasionally. Anonymous: "You reached into my dark isolation and urged me out with writing." (from the "Introduction").

For the book's epigraph, Balint calls forth words of poet Taha Muhammad Ali:

... it has taken me
all of sixty years
to understand
that water is the finest drink,
and bread the most delicious food,
and that art is worthless
unless it plants
a measure of splendor in people's hearts.

Developing a writing class is an art, especially if it develops into a community of writers from different backgrounds, writers who share life stories regardless of where they used to live or where they live right now. Moreover, once one writing group forms, its good will spills over into the larger community - the city - where seeds for fairness and justice are planted and may even be realized.

I share my story, you share your story.
They're not the same story,
but with our stories
we give each other kindness.
- Tamar

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Fireworks, Springhill Avenue, Baltimore, Md. circa 1953

I was twelve and, with the other neighborhood kids, I sat on top of the hill across from “T.A.,” the Talmudical Academy, where the religious boys went to school. I was with the seculars, the public school kids: Alan, Beverly, Carl, my best friend  Marlyn, and I don’t remember who else. Maybe my little sister. My brother was uptown. Or maybe he was at Towanda, the playground with the cigarettes and baseball field, where the 7th grader, Malcolm, set himself on fire because he was afraid to show his “Papa’s All” father his poor grades. 

My father, from Belarus, called us his American children and though watching fireworks was an American activity, I think I felt more immigrant than American-born. We didn’t know about indigenous peoples, didn’t know to speak a tribal name. This was a Jewish neighborhood, and in Baltimore every sect had its own alcove. Nancy Pelosi - her father was Mayor Thomas D’Alessandro -  lived downtown in Little Italy. She was just a year and a half older than me, but we wouldn’t have known each other anyway. I being Jewish and she being Italian.

The only time I went to Little Italy was a few years later, when on a date, we all went out for Italian food. I don’t know if Nancy D’Alessandro Pelosi ever came to my neighborhood. Maybe if she wanted to try Jewish food and sought out a delicatessen. I know I’m stereotyping, but that’s the way it was then; at least, that’s the way I remember it. Poles here, Irish Catholics there. The only time I had contact with Blacks, before the schools were integrated, was when I took the #5 bus downtown through Pennsylvania Avenue. White Christians lived in Roland Park, where Jews and Blacks were not allowed. Adrienne Rich's family lived there. They passed, and she was in her twenties before she found out she was Jewish. (Read her Split at the Root).  

Anyway, watching fireworks in Northwest Baltimore was a strange kind of fun then. The flourishes and colors weren’t particularly exciting, but sitting on a hill (and not in a synagogue) with members of my tribe was. Watching those fireworks on that hill gave me a sense of belonging. They don’t do that for me now. My mother didn’t get excited about them either. While I was outside with the neighborhood kids, she was home sewing. My father? He was out somewhere, probably playing pinochle.

I’ve lived in Seattle since 1976; the Pacific Northwest since 1970. When the fireworks start my dog sits in a corner shaking. I sit with her. Neither one of us appreciates what some call a celebration. Especially in this age of Trump, I see nothing to celebrate.


Monday, August 29, 2016

my email has changed to eahelfgott@gmail.com